Wednesday, October 21, 2009

My Top 11 Vampire Movies That Don’t Suck

In honor of the re-appropriated pagan fertility festival-turned-candy frenzy known as Halloween, and the 13 days of Halloween reviews going on at 11 Word Movie Reviews, I have decided to put together a list of my favorite 11 vampire movies.

I’m going to immediately note that Twilight isn’t on this list. Although Stephanie Meyer’s Romeo and Juliet with sparkly bloodsucking undead is very popular with the kids right now, it’s literally defanged a lot of the menace of the vampire in fiction. Where once the horror of a creature that infects its victims with an uncontrollable lust that consumes its life and destroys those around it, has been thoroughly sanitized and presented as benign or (overly) sympathetic. This is not to say Twilight isn’t a fine dark fantasy romantic melodrama, but the vampiric Cullen clan could have easily been mutants or demons than the walking dead, and a lot of the flavor and weaknesses of the vampire have been tweaked or outright forgotten, so I don’t think of it as a particularly good example of vampire movies.

But the Twilight brood isn’t the only example of watered-down vampires, be they cereal mascots:

Vegetarian duck vampires:

Count Duckula actually has very little to do with this article. I just like him.

And, of course, we can’t forget when Leslie Nielsen was Dracula: Dead and Loving It:

The vampire story, overall, is so ingrained in the contemporary mindset, most films (and TV series) are variations on the theme, or mocked for comedy (like the example above, and some below.) A lot of the rankings here have to do with technical quality and personal preference than anything else.

Here are 11 good movies that capture the terror (and perhaps, the comedic neuroses) that come from being one of the children of the night:

11. Interview with the Vampire

Interview was the pendulum swing that sent popular culture to the romantic vampire. With famously handsome actors like Brad Pitt and Tom Cruise it’s of little surprise this happened. It’s actually a very engaging movie, and brought about the big resurgence of vampire fiction in the early 90’s (which more than a few of my friends were into.)

10. Once Bitten

Jim Carrey became an A-list star after Ace Ventura, but few remember his pre-In Living Color career. Mostly with good reason. (That’s unkind, I actually really like Earth Girls are Easy.) Once Bitten in hindsight feels like someone desperately trying to paddle after the Teen Wolf wave, in which teenaged Carrey is threatened with vampirism by a seductive (what we would call now) cougar. It’s not so much wacky as it is a teen-friendly pseudo-comedy about vampires.

9. 30 Days of Night

I believe the in 30 Second Reenacted by Bunnies did this far better than I could ever hope to.

8. Nosferatu: Phantom Der Nacht

An adaptation of F.W. Murnau’s classic, Klaus Kinski gives an amazing performance as the titular bloodsucker. Werner Herzog is one of the bolder German directors out there, and he manages to find quite a lot of thematic material to work with here.

7. Vampire Hunter D: Bloodlust


Dark, visceral, fun. ‘Nuff said.

6. Blackula

I have a soft spot in my heart for exploitation movies. So in the little Venn diagram of my fascination with horror and my love of exploitation movies (amongst many other topics,) Blackula falls square in the middle. It has action, adventure, romance, and black vampires! Ok, really, all it has is black vampires. But still, I like it.

5. Buffy the Vampire Slayer

Joss Whedon is my hero.

That is all.

4. Nosferatu

If we’re going to talk about German Expressionism, this is one of the movies I’d actually want to discuss. F.W. Murnau is one of the best directors to come out of the movement and this is my favorite. Nosferatu is so dark and moody and complex that it really manages to hit all the emotional notes while trying really hard not to pay the Bram Stoker estate anything.

3. Dracula (1992)

Not a lot of people have affection for the Coppola version. I’ve expressed how awesome I think Gary Oldman is before, and will leave it at that. And, barring Keanu Reeve’s kind of minimalist accent, the movie is quite strong and a very faithful adaptation. It’s got great production values, good script, and a lot of amazing performances.

2. Shadow of the Vampire

Take the concept “What if Max Schrek, who played Nosferatu in the Murnau movie, really was a vampire?” and bring in some of the finest American actors of our time (and Willem Dafoe, sorry Willem,) and what do you get? Simply put, a great movie.

1. Dracula (1933)

Okay, honestly, did you expect anything else but this? It’s the quintessential vampire movie. Bela Lugosi’s best performance, and it’s nothing short of inspired. It’s probably the reason we as a culture on occasion go batty for vampires.

So, if you’re going to catch The Vampire’s Assistant, watch True Blood or Vampire Diaries, or catch the Twilight sequel New Moon, here are 11 vampire movies that are pretty choice...

But you don’t have to take MY word for it. DA DUN DUN!

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